The Zika virus is being hunted – by scientists seeking to crack its genetic code. Why is understanding Zika’s genetics so important? Well, considering scientists presently know so little about how the virus evolves, it can only help researchers to understand it better and maybe even be able to predict if can evolve to an even more dangerous infection.
A virus works by entering cells in the human body, then using that as a way to replicate over and over again. Each time a virus enters cells and replicates, it will change ever so slightly. The changes can be harmless or they can create new problems for the host, getting passed on to the next host with this new material that can change the way it impacts a human or animal.
So far, scientists view the genes inside of the Zika virus to be stable – but some evidence is suggesting the genes may be changing in ways that could make the disease a more effective replication once it gets inside human cells.
One of the benefits to studying the genes of this virus is you can tell where it’s been. Right now, scientists know there are two main families of the Zika virus – the African lineage and Asian lineage. It is thought that the Asian version of the virus came to the Americans via French Polynesia, where it was first found in Brazil in 2015. That same version of Zika is thought to have been in Haiti since 2014.
As of right now, there aren’t very many full Zika gene sequences available for study. In the U.S. repository, there are only 69. But the United States is working with researchers in Brazil to secure much more, and hundreds of partial sequences.
From the data they do have, scientists believe at this point the changes they are seeing in the virus are a part of its normal life cycle. So, don’t be too alarmed by the research. It’s really just better to be able to have as much information about the virus as possible so it can be dealt with more effectively. Knowledge is power, after all.
So Why Is Zika a Problem Now?
Zika has been around for many years in Asia and Africa, and has been seen as a weak virus – so what has changed? Researchers think the outbreaks in Asia and Africa just weren’t big enough, impacting enough people, to create the things public health workers in the Americas are now seeing. Plus, over time people in Africa and Asia have built up immunity to the virus, and the countries Zika is having a big impact in now, such as Brazil, don’t have immunity.
Until researchers have more information about Zika and how it impacts particular populations of people around the world, you just have to do what you can to prevent it in your own life. If you feel you need to restrict travel, especially if pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, you should do so. It’s also worthwhile to take precautions such as wearing bug spray and long-sleeved shirts and pants when outside. Of course, it’s always a good idea to have a professional treat your lawn, like the pros at MosquitoNix!